Tammy Zelenko: Build a strong foundation

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Before she acquired AdvaCare in 1999, Tammy Zelenko spent 17 years paying her dues. At various home medical equipment companies, she worked in billing, customer service and operations. She learned the HME business inside and out, and that experience has served her well.
Since taking the reins at AdvaCare, Zelenko has grown the company's revenue 225% and quadrupled its staff. She's added two standalone locations in the Pittsburgh area and two sleep labs in area hospitals.
Zelenko's growth strategy is to "build a strong foundation to help us continue to grow and reinvest in the company." Most recently, that's meant purchasing a scanning system to take AdvaCare paperless.
"It has paid off tremendously," she said. "My employees were thanking me for doing this. We ended our fiscal year at 52 days DSO, and I attribute that to this technology."
Although Zelenko doesn't feel she's faced any unique challenges as a woman in this business, she certainly sees a difference in her management style from her male counterparts.
"I wear my heart on my sleeve," she said. "It's easy to tell when I'm not happy with something, but I also don't have any trouble going up and hugging someone to thank them for a job well done. Men just don't show their emotions like that."
Although she acknowledges encountering barriers in her early years as a woman in HME, she now feels that her track record speaks for itself.
"Once you prove yourself, you earn respect from the industry," Zelenko said. "Once they see that 'she gets it, she really understands this business' what else can they say?"
The future is bright for women in HME, Zelenko says, as long as they don't put up self-imposed barriers.
"There are a lot of talented women in our industry," she said. "But sometimes they hold themselves back when they let themselves get intimidated."
AdvaCare's future looks bright, as well. Zelenko is getting more involved in legislative issues and staying on top of coming changes in the industry, while preparing AdvaCare for competitive bidding and Pennsylvania's state selective bidding. Even with these challenges on the horizon, she anticipates continued growth and possibly more locations.
"If your focus is on patient care, your bottom line will always be a positive one," she said. "You can't make a mistake as long as that's your focus."
In fact, in building her company Zelenko's guiding principle has always been "the patient comes first." It's also a conviction that Zelenko says comes naturally to her as a woman.
"Nurturing is a natural instinct for women," she said. "Whenever I hear about a patient who's dying, I think 'that could be my mother.'" hme
Years in business: 17
Company/location: AdvaCare Home Services, Bridgeville, Pa.
Size: $3.9 million net
Position: President, CEO and owner
Professional associations: Board Member of Pennsylvania Association of Medical Equipment Suppliers (PAMS), AAHomecare, The VGM Group
Business philosophy: "If you take care of the customer, you'll never go wrong."